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Manitoba RCMP charge retired priest, 92, with indecent assault in historical residential school case

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A 92-year-old retired priest is facing an indecent assault charge in connection with the RCMP investigation into the former Fort Alexander Residential School, northeast of Winnipeg – Jun 17, 2022

A 92-year-old retired priest is facing an indecent assault charge in connection with the RCMP investigation into the former Fort Alexander Residential School, northeast of Winnipeg.

At a press conference Friday morning, Manitoba RCMP said the offence took place when the victim was 10 years old and a student at the school between 1968 and 1970.

Read more: Charge laid in decade-long investigation into abuse at Manitoba residential school

Father Arthur Masse was arrested at his Winnipeg home and released with conditions, police said, with a July 20 court date in Powerview, Man.

Beginning in 2010, the investigation — which, according to police, involved more than 700 interactions across North America, leading to 75 witness and victim statements — included a review of archived records of the school, including student and employee lists.

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Undated image of Arthur Masse.
Undated image of Arthur Masse. Archives of the Société historique de Saint-Boniface

Sgt. Paul Manaigre said Friday that this was the only current investigation by Manitoba RCMP into residential schools, but that police will investigate if other claims come forward.

“The size and scope of this investigation has meant many years of investigative work,” said Manaigre.

“While we have certainly had the steps involved in a police investigation top of mind throughout the whole process, we have also been very aware of the effect our investigation was having on the community.

Read more: ‘Tip of the iceberg’: 6 potential unmarked graves found near former Pine Creek residential school

“The emotional trauma experienced by victims of abuse is very real, and despite the years that intervened between the alleged occurrences and when police were investigating, that trauma is still present. Investigators were aware of that trauma and approached the investigation in a way intended to limit further injury.”

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Manaigre confirmed that the accused was an employee of the residential school at the time of the offence, but was unable to specify what his exact role was.

Chief Derrick Henderson of Sagkeeng First Nation told Global News he’s relieved that the lengthy investigation came up with a result.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba RCMP charge retired priest in connection with alleged assault at residential school' Manitoba RCMP charge retired priest in connection with alleged assault at residential school
Manitoba RCMP charge retired priest in connection with alleged assault at residential school – Jun 17, 2022

“I don’t know how the community will react,” Henderson said.

“I think it’s probably a little bit of relief — in the sense that a lot of our people have been telling this story and now somebody has been made accountable for it.

“Now maybe people will start to believe when our Indigenous people tell something.”

Worked at other schools

Information compiled by the Societe historique de Saint-Boniface, an archive in Manitoba, said Masse was born in Ferland, Sask., in 1929.

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His first post was at the Fort Frances residential school in northern Ontario where he stayed until 1957. He later returned to that school in 1970 and oversaw the student residence until it closed four years later.

Masse worked at a number of other schools during his time away from Fort Frances.

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Canada’s colonial history still has impact today – Jun 15, 2022

Minegoziibe Anishinabe First Nation Chief Derek Nepinak said Masse also spent time at the Pine Creek Residential School northwest of Winnipeg and was “notorious” there.

The Fort Alexander school also had a reputation for severe abuse.

Read more: Unmarked graves at Canada’s residential schools are ‘tip of the iceberg’: minister

Survivors told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about starvation, sexual abuse and harsh discipline. Children from nearly two dozen First Nations attended the school for about 10 months of the year.

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Sagkeeng First Nation recently discovered 190 anomalies during its search for unmarked graves near the school using ground-penetrating radar.

Click to play video: '‘We will continue to survive,’ residential school survivor reflects as province announces support for uncovering burial sites' ‘We will continue to survive,’ residential school survivor reflects as province announces support for uncovering burial sites
‘We will continue to survive,’ residential school survivor reflects as province announces support for uncovering burial sites – Jun 15, 2022

Initial data shows the irregularities fit some of the criteria for graves, but the community leadership has said more information is needed.

Henderson said he was taken aback when he learned of the arrest Thursday. He remembered the retired priest attending hockey games and other community events.

Read more: Group forms to support Indigenous-led searches of residential school burial sites in Manitoba

He said while reliving pain has been difficult, it is important for the truth to come out.

“This is another step in that story, another chapter in that story of the abuse in residential schools.”

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— with files from The Canadian Press’ Kelly Geraldine Malone

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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